How the Art Institute of Chicago preserves thousands of photographs

Friday, March 8, 2019


Directions: Read the summary, watch the video and answer the discussion questions. You may want to read along using the transcript here or turn on “CC” closed-captions.

Summary: At the world famous Art Institute of Chicago, museum staff rely on state-of-the-art technology to preserve more than 24,000 photographs. Art restoration involves repairing artwork that has sustained decay due to “negligence, willful damage, or, more usually, the inevitable decay caused by the effects of time and human use on the materials of which they are made.” A current museum exhibit teaches visitors how the conservation process works to protect and restore photographs which cannot be replaced. In the age of digital media, physical preservation not only focuses on older photography but also on paintings, drawings, prints and sculptures.



Discussion questions: 

1) Essential question: What purpose does art restoration serve in preserving history?

2) Why do you think such a tedious process of caring for photos is necessary?

3) Do you think adding purposeful corrections to an artwork destroys the value of the original piece? Why or why not?

4) In the age of digital media in which many people view photos through their smartphones and tablets, do you think print photos will eventually be forgotten? Is there authenticity missing from a digital artwork as opposed to something in print? Explain.

5) What is the difference between restoring old photographs as is the case with the Art Institute of Chicago and someone using filters on his/her Instagram account to change what the photo looks like?

6) Media literacy: Whether visiting a photo gallery, an art museum or a friend’s digital photo album, do you think the viewer should always be told that a piece of art has been restored or changed in some way? Explain your response.

Extension activity:

Directions: Watch the two NewsHour videos below on restoring artwork by Mark Rothko and the frescoes of Florence, Italy. Do you agree with efforts to restore these pieces of art? Why or why not?



Visit PBS NewsHour Extra for more education resources designed to help teachers and students identify the who, what, where and why-it-matters of the major national and international news stories. You can read the original story here@NewsHourExtra